on 28 May 2000
The words that come to mind having absorbed the arguments of Paula Fredriksen in "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" are "common sense". In her book she has not fallen prey (like so many in historical Jesus studies) to the predatory gaze of "method" neither has she been overly waylaid along the way by a need to pander to various "audiences" either contemporary or ancient. She has done history - Jewish history - and, in my opinion, done it well. Her Jesus is "a prophet who preached the coming apocalyptic Kingdom of God." She follows this tack not least because it enables Jesus to cohere with his immediate mentor, John the Baptist, and the movement that "sprang up in his name" - the first Christians. Fredriksen believes that in many ways what Jesus preached was revolutionary only in the sense that he talked about God's kingdom NOW rather than SOON - it was a matter of TIMETABLE and not CONTENT. Thus, Fredriksen contributes another Jesus to the current round of thoroughly Jewish Jesuses.
A key and noteworthy aspect of Fredriksen's work is the insight that the itinerary of John, as against the Synoptic Gospels, may be closer to the truth. That is, Jesus was known in Judea and Galilee rather than just Galilee. This allows her to say that Jesus, being known in and around Jerusalem, could be seen as a one man threat in a sense, rather than the leader of a revolutionary movement or army. Thus, when the time came to do away with Jesus his followers were left alone since they were never perceived as the threat Jesus was. This threat was due to Jesus ability to galvanise the crowds with his imminent eschatological message, a message which at his final Passover may well have been tinged with a crowd more and more convinced of his possible messianic credentials. Thus Jesus was executed by Pilate as a political insurrectionist.
So what other examples of scholarly common sense might we find in this book? Well, the insight that searching for the historical Jesus now requires knowledge of the historical Galilee and historical Judaism. Further, the suggestion that Jesus is not the all-seeing, all-knowing individual some scholars (and many readers) assume him to be. Why can't Pilate's action against Jesus have caught him by surprise, for example? Further, but by no means finally, that Jesus' messianic identity might well be in some way concretised in the consciousness of those following Jesus before the crucifixion and, indeed, act as a fatal impetus towards it.
So here we have a book of eminent common sense which attempts what was seemingly becoming thought impossible - a reasoned and reasonable view of the historical Jesus which attempts to make sense of our historical evidence without fuss, bluster or fanfares of publicity. I judge that Fredriksen has done as good a job as we can expect against the current background of research - and in a way that is both readable and enjoyable. As a current postgraduate student specialising in the historical Jesus, I recommend this book to every reader interested in the subject.
on 4 May 2010
Fredericksen successfully assembles all of the historical evidence, everything from the gospels, paul's letters, the dead sea scrolls etc and uses them to understand what the historical jesus might have actually been like. by understanding jesus in his own context and outside of our modern preconceptions reveal him to be very much a man of his time. this book is fascinating, well written, well argued and well worth a read.